Summary: Gabriel Gray, private investigator, gets in over his head when Dr. Mohinder Suresh asks for his help.
Spoilers/Warnings: May contain violence and character death.
Author's Note: This is a film noir AU, so in this remix I sampled some lines of dialogue and plot-line embellishments from some classics. High fives to etoiledunord for the beta!
Title, Author, and url of original story: "The Stolen Formula" by carmexgirl
"Mr. Gray? Mr. Gray? Gabriel!"
Gabriel Gray lifted his head from his desk, wiping the sleep from his eyes. He wearily lifted his gaze to the door, where his secretary Elle Bishop hovered, hand on knob.
"Asleep on the job again?"
"A nap at the desk's better than a nap in the dirt." Truth of the matter was that Gabriel Gray, private investigator, hadn't been sleeping well lately. The business used to be a two-man operation, but it had mysteriously gone down to one. Bennet was the name on the door - Noah Bennet, more precisely - but sometime in the past few weeks, Bennet had up and vanished. It meant double the work for Gray, and to be honest he wasn't the kind of guy who agreed much with work in the first place.
"You gonna let me set my pretty head down on my desk, then?"
"Couldn't have that, doll," Gray yawned. "That'd be unprofessional."
"Yeah. Right," Elle replied curtly. The dame was short on brains but long on looks - that was the main reason Bennet had hired her in the first place. She was their go-to gal for all things dark and dirty. Wife needed to prove that her husband was cheating to void a prenup? Elle played badger. Diversion ever necessary for a snoop job? Elle was just the kind of distraction a guy could use. Even the most unworthy people have a right to life and the pursuit of happiness, but Elle was the kind of doll to pursue it in all directions.
This secretary stuff was beyond her capacity. That desk used to be occupied by Bennet's old lady, Sandra, a charming middle-aged broad with a face like a bucket of mud. Since Bennet's disappearance she'd been a wreck, holing herself up at home with her little dog, Muggles. Lost her mind with grief, they said. Lost her sanity.
So that's how come that doll Elle wound up in the cushy seat during the day. Mostly she'd just been reading the rags, the more morbid the headlines the better. "Petrelli death ruled homicide" and the like. Not particularly useful information, just tawdry rumors to entertain the masses.
"You got a visitor," she said, snapping her gum as she talked.
"It's almost time to close up this popsicle stand," Gabriel sighed, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. "Tell him to come back tomorrow morning."
"Says it's urgent, chief," she smirked. "Told me it couldn't wait."
"And then what did you tell him?"
"That this is not that kind of business," she winked, pulling the lapels of her jacket together to playfully conceal her decolletage. "He'd at least have to buy me dinner first."
"And that didn't scare him off?"
"Oh, ha, I get it," she said, shrugging. "Truth be told, he already looked pretty scared when he came in."
"Fine. Show him in."
The man was foreign - Indian, of medium height and slight build. He seemed overcome by nervous energy, as many clients were; he fidgeted with the rings on his fingers as Elle opened the door and introduced him. "Mr. Gray, this is Dr. Suresh."
"Take a seat, Doctor," Gray said, beckoning to the empty chair before him. "Elle, make sure you close the door as you go out."
"Sure thing, chief."
As Suresh tried to make himself comfortable, Gray reached into the top drawer of his desk and pulled out a hard pack of smokes. "Pardon my manners, you don't mind, do you?"
"Well, I..." the doctor began, but without waiting for a reply, Gray set his cigarette alight and began puffing away. "No... not... I suppose I don't."
"Care for a fag?" Gabriel asked, offering the pack across the desk.
"No," the doctor replied. "No, thank you. I don't smoke."
Gray narrowed his eyes as he sized Suresh up - he took him for the kind of man who preferred to indulge his vices by proxy. "I see. So, Dr. Suresh, what can I do you for?"
The door opened suddenly. "Anyone thirst for a tall glass of water?" Elle said, interrupting.
"Yes... yes, please," Suresh said, and Elle came in with two glasses pinched between the fingers of one hand and a cool pitcher, filled to the brim, in the other. She set them all down on a corner of Bennet's vacated desk and poured a drink for the professor.
"What about you, Mr. Gray?"
Suresh watched Elle leave the room. He seemed ill at ease, jumpy, uncomfortable in his own skin. "Is she... is she your girl?" he asked Gray.
"You mean Elle? She's like a pair of gloves to me. When I get cold, I call her up." Suresh frowned a little, and Gray felt suddenly uneasy. Whose availability was he looking for, his or hers? At any rate, it was apparent that this stodgy doctor had no sense of humor. "It was a joke, Doc. Lighten up."
The corners of Suresh's mouth turned down for a moment more before he sighed and shook his head. "You can call me Mohinder," he said, obviously an effort.
"All right, Mohinder." Gray sucked in deeply once more on his cigarette, the nicotine giving him an artificial sense of calm. "What can I do for you?"
"I need your help, Mr. Gray," Suresh began. "You see, until quite recently I had possession of two halves of a formula that is extremely important to my work. I say 'recently' because three days ago one half of that formula was stolen from me, rendering my work completely useless. I would like to engage your help in recovering it, if at all possible."
"Three days ago, Suresh?" Gray asked, leaning back. "Trail will be cold by now. Why didn't you enlist me directly after the incident?"
"It's... it's perhaps a little more complicated than I would have liked to admit. I saw the thief, nearly caught her red-handed. Thought perhaps I'd be able to find her on my own, but sleuthing isn't my forte. I could provide a reliable description, if it helps." He leaned forward on the desk, and with great concentration he began to recite something he'd apparently rehearsed before. "She was perhaps five feet tall, give or take a few inches, and her hair was..."
"Elle can take that down for you on your way out," Gabriel said, interrupting. "And make sure you give her your contact information, too. More important, Doc, is the issue of payment. Now, how much is this formula worth to you?"
Suresh sat upright once again, his eyes wide. "It's irreplaceable, sir. I couldn't even put a number to it."
"Try to, all right? Then you give me fifty percent of whatever that number is. I take only cash. If I find nothing, then you get your money back. I just need a little capital to get started. We on the same page?"
"I think so." Suresh opened his jacket a little and searched his inner pocket for something. Very carefully he set a wad of bills on Gray's desk. "There's one thousand dollars. I'd have to get the rest for you later."
Gray could feel his jaw go slack, even as he tried to hide his amazement. "Make sure you stop by the secretary's desk on your way out," he said, feigning indifference, but as soon as the door clicked shut behind Mohinder, he had the bills in his hands. Slowly he counted them, and then again, and then again. Whatever trouble the doctor had gotten into, it seemed a profitable kind. And Gray didn't mind a reasonable amount of trouble.
When he'd counted to his heart's content, he figured it was time to hang his hat up for the day. He put his fedora on and left the office, pausing at Elle's desk while he put on his trench coat. "Hey, doll, you got that description for me?" he asked.
"What description?" she said back, more engaged in the state of her fingernails than with Gabriel's question.
"You know, what the Doc was talking to you about on the way out. Five feet, give or take a few inches, all that jazz."
"Was I supposed to write that down?" Elle asked, shrugging innocently. She held up her notepad - instead of scribing, she had scribbled.
Gray cursed inwardly, knowing the answer to his question before it even left his mouth. "You get his number, at least?"
"He ain't my type."
"Damn it all, Elle," Gray hissed. "You sure are something to look at, but once you put clothes on, you're useless." As he dashed down the stairs, he caught sight of the back of Mohinder's head, his distinctive tweed jacket going round the corner, and hurriedly he followed behind. But out of an alleyway, a petite blonde figure stepped from the shadows as Mohinder passed by, the collar of her coat pulled up to conceal her face and her sensible flats making nary a sound against the surface of the sidewalk.
It became evident that she was following Mohinder, and so Gabriel decided instead to follow her.
She paused as Suresh turned into a doorway, stepping into the limen of the next building as he fumbled in his pockets for his keys. Her face was concealed in shadow, but Gabriel watched, almost mesmerized, as the woman slid her hand beneath her coat lapel, revealing just the slightest glimmer of cold, hard lead.
"Armed and dangerous," Gray muttered to himself. As Suresh let himself into the building, the blonde quickly and silently stopped the door from closing and slipped in behind him. Gray dashed after her, following suit.
Suresh stopped again at another doorway; Gray could hear his keys jangling from the stairwell, the metallic tinkling echoing. The woman halted, stock still, and pressed herself against the wall as though trying to blend in. Realizing there was no time like the present, she pulled the gun from her coat and held it levelly as she steadied her aim. The doorknob clicked and the door creaked open; a shot rang out, and the hallway filled with calamitous shouting as Gray and the girl scuffled on the stairway. He'd leapt just as she'd pulled the trigger, and the bullet entered the wall opposite them. Now he had her pressed against that wall, hands behind her back and lip bleeding from where he'd pushed her a little too roughly.
Mohinder leaned over the railing, aghast.
"She was going to shoot you, you idiot," Gray snapped at him. The realization hit Suresh like a ton of bricks, and he staggered backwards into his apartment, obviously frightened. "What's your name, doll?" he asked, turning his attention to the woman squirming in his grasp.
"Go to hell," she replied succinctly.
"You tell me your name, you tell me who you're working for," Gabriel said, slow and easy, as though talking to a child.
"Don't you dare get fresh with me, you creep. You get fresh with me, I'll kill you," she spat at him.
"Honey, if a girl killed every man who got fresh with her, how much of the male population do you think there'd be left?" He noticed Mohinder's reappearance at the top of the stairs. He patted her down, rifled through her pockets, making sure she wasn't concealing another weapon. All he found was a slip of paper, some kind of receipt, with the number 713 written on it. Hastily he pocked it. "Where did you vanish to just now?"
"I called the police," Mohinder said shakily. "They're already on their way."
"Shit," said the woman.
"Shit," said Gray.
"We'd better get out of here, then," Gray answered. "Last thing we need is them blue coats mucking up my investigation."
"It seemed a dire enough situation to merit their notice, Mr. Gray!" Suresh said, his voice pitching wildly with panic as he tried to rationalize his hasty reaction.
"You're probably right," Gabriel replied. "But I tell you what, I don't always operate on the right side of the law, and those guys would love to catch me in the middle of a crime scene. I don't need them to come sniffing 'round and asking questions I don't know the answers to yet."
"Better let me go, then," the blonde hissed.
"Not so easy, there, doll," Gabriel said. She struggled; he smashed her face into the wall again. "I want your name or the name of who you're working for."
"Like hell!" she shouted back.
"Your mother teach you how to talk like that?" Gray asked, and he took the woman by her shoulders and turned her around to get a good look at her face. She wore too much paint on her face, like she was trying to hide her identity under a layer of mascara and lipstick a shade too red. If she was a dish, she'd have been the sixty-cent special - cheap, flashy, strictly poison under the gravy.
"Claire?" he asked, puzzled. "Claire Bennet?"
She took advantage of his momentary confusion, shouldering him in the gut and dropping the gun. A moment later, she vanished out the door and into the fading light of day.
"You know her, Mr. Gray?" Mohinder asked as he descended the stairs.
"We go back," Gray replied, taking a deep breath as he stood up straight, his hand on his gut. "We go way back."
"Well, what do we do now? The police are on their way."
"Get the lead out of your pants, Doc," Gray said. "I'll lead the way."
"Bennet," Mohinder repeated, trying to keep up. "Claire Bennet. Why does that name sound so familiar?"
"I'll tell you why," Gray muttered. "It's the other name on the door to my office."
All he had to go on was a slip of paper with the number 713 on it, but Gabriel had a pretty good hunch as to where it came from. He led Suresh to a train station a few blocks away, where a clerk at a desk held onto people's belongings as they traveled. The clerk was a short man with glasses that emphasized his bright, inquisitive eyes. He wore a tag bearing the name "Hiro" on his crisp, black vest.
"I need you to open locker number 713 for me," Gray said to the clerk, who looked at him, confused.
"Ah, 713, locker 713," he repeated, bowing. "Let me see. You have receipt?"
Gray slid the piece of paper across the counter to the clerk, who squinted at it momentarily and frowned. "One moment, please," he said, and he went to a large leather-bound ledger nearby, flipping it open and running a finger along the page. "You have identification?" he asked. "I must make sure you are Bennet."
"Is this identification enough for you?" Gray asked, pulling a bill out from his pocket and sliding it discreetly across the countertop, as he'd done with the receipt.
The little clerk frowned again. "Sorry, sir," he said, shaking his head. "Driver's license or military card only."
"Let me make this clear for you, Hiro," Gray hissed at him. "This is the Supreme Prime Chancellor Minister Defense Secretary from India, and he needs to get to Washington to meet the president for a very important meeting. He's got some very important stuff in locker number 713, and it's not his fault the valet put it under his own name, is it? Can he be held responsible? Couldn't you open it up and let us have it, just this once, in the name of national security?"
The clerk was very confused; he looked almost ready to cry as he turned around and searched for locker 713, keys in hand. When he turned around, he had nothing but a slip of paper to offer Gray. "Just this," he said, breathing a sigh of relief.
All that was written on the paper was an address accompanied by the initials HRG. "Do you know what this means?" Gabriel asked Suresh, who'd been meekly standing behind him during the entire transaction.
"Assuming HRG are initials, perhaps it's a business address of some sort."
"Very good, Doc," Gray said, smiling. "We'll make a PI out of you yet. Have a good night, Hiro," he said winking at the clerk as he left. The poor man stood pouting behind the counter, his confusion clear as day.
Gray shoved his way through a throng of incoming travelers, Mohinder in tow, leaving the station and dodging taxis until they made it across the street. "Whatever it is, it's worth looking into. Care for a smoke?"
To Gabriel's surprise, Suresh nodded, and Gray took an extra cigarette from his pack. They lingered on the sidewalk together as Gabriel lit their smokes, two ordinary people for just a moment. Gray leaned back against the brick of the building behind him, trying to figure out how tangled this web was. How'd someone like Dr. Suresh get caught up in something like this? How'd a good girl like Claire Bennet go bad?
But his reverie was interrupted by a blonde flash he saw from the corner of his eye. A woman appeared suddenly, just beneath the soft glow of the light from the station entrance, a metallic gleam in her hands. "Duck!" Gabriel yelled, the cigarette dropping from his mouth as he grabbed Suresh by the shoulders and dropped to the ground. There was dust and a sprinkling of pebbles as bullets hit the wall above and around them. When Gabriel looked up, the girl had vanished; a few other passersby glared and yelled and whispered among themselves in awe of what just happened.
"What the hell was that?" Suresh cried out. "Was it Claire Bennet?"
"New girl this time," Gray spat out, angry at himself for his momentary distraction. He glanced at his cigarette, still alight on the ground, but he hadn't time to waste retrieving it. He let it smolder as he helped Suresh back to his feet.
"Tell me truthfully, Mr. Gray," Mohinder asked. "Is there any way to win at this game?"
"No," he replied. "Only a way to lose more slowly."
Mohinder opened his mouth to speak but struggled to find the words. He was shaking all over, overwhelmed by his nervous energy. "I'm afraid to go back to my apartment tonight."
Gabriel sighed and thought about his bankroll. "Come with me, then," he said. "We'll get this sorted out."
Gray's apartment was sparsely decorated, if one could consider it decorated at all. It was a one-room place in a seedy side of town, with nothing but a dinette set and a sleeper sofa taking up space outside of the tiny kitchen. It was the best Gray could afford without having to put up with a roommate, although that was more than he bargained for tonight.
"Care for something to drink?"
"Do you have tea or anything like that?"
"No, but I have a few bottles of beer that aren't working."
Mohinder, exhausted, sank down onto the couch as Gabriel went to his icebox and retrieved a few bottles, popping of their caps in his teeth. "Now tell me the truth," Gabriel said to Mohinder as he handed him a beer. "I need to know more about this formula."
"It would mean nothing to you," Mohinder groaned, closing his eyes as he massaged his temples with his long, skinny fingers. "It's something I've been working on for my employer. To explain it in layman's terms... well, it wouldn't..."
"It's time to cut the crap, Doc, and give it to me straight," Gray interrupted, his irritation slowly growing into rage. "Your life is in danger, and I can't help you out if I don't know which direction the bullets are flying from."
"I don't appreciate the tone you're taking with me, Mr. Gray," Suresh snapped back. "Remember that you're in my employ; I've already divulged to you the pertinent information, and I don't care to reveal any more than I already have. You believe what I've told you, don't you?"
Gabriel snorted with indignation. "Not especially. I believed your money. You paid me more than if you had been telling the truth. If it was a simple theft, you would have gone to the police immediately, not me three days later."
Mohinder sighed, realizing that he couldn't win. His life was at stake, and Gray was the only guy he could trust just then. "It's a chemical formula. It's for a derivative of cocaine, particularly addictive. I've been hired to devise a stable formula for the drug, so my employers can distribute it throughout the city as a... as a business venture on their part, I suppose."
Gabriel's eyes widened, and he ran a hand through his hair in disbelief. The situation was more grim than he though. "Cocaine. The stuff that dreams are made of," he quipped, sinking down on the sofa beside Suresh.
"I know how illegal this is, and how unethical. That's why I wasn't forthcoming about the nature of my work, Mr. Gray. I thought you'd refuse to help, call the police - and who else could I turn to?"
"Who is it that you're working for?" Gabriel asked. "You couldn't have gone to them, told them what happened?"
"At this point I think they'd sooner see me dead."
"Well, that's evident. Got a name you can give me?"
Gray leaned his head back on the couch, his eyes shut. Petrelli. Well, that was just great. Of course he'd get into a pickle like this with the largest crime syndicate this side of the Pacific. The Petrellis ruled the city from the bottom up, the whole family. And with one of their own as the district attorney, the law couldn't touch them. Even though their head honcho was dead - recently, too, under mysterious circumstances - they weren't the kind of crowd Gray was comfortable running with. "I don't know how you got yourself into this mess, but you're sure in it deep."
"You'll still help me?"
Gabriel sighed. Any sane person would turn back at this point, but there was something about the earnestness in Suresh's voice, the pleading look in his eyes, something electric between them that he couldn't ignore. For Gabriel, there was no turning back now. "Listen up, Doc. First thing tomorrow, we go to my office, and then we find HRG, whatever that may be."
"I might know something about HRG," Suresh said, and Gabriel's ears perked up.
"Why didn't you say so earlier?"
"Earlier I was being fired upon. I've had some time to clear my mind since then."
"Well, then - shoot!" Gabriel insisted.
"I believe HRG is a person - it's not a name, the initials stand for something else. I gather he's some sort of small-time gangster; I've heard to him referred to as a thorn in the Petrellis' side for years now."
"So you think he might be behind the theft? Trying to horn in on their business?"
"They stand to make a lot of money if this cocaine formula is stabilized," Mohinder explained. "At the very least, by taking the formula he's preventing them from making bank on this."
"So the question is whether he wants to run the cocaine racket himself, or if he wants to bribe the Petrellis for what he's taken."
"I suppose so."
The men arrived at the office the worse for wear the next day.
"I haven't shared a bed with a man since my days at Oxford," Mohinder remarked offhandedly. Gabriel shushed him immediately when he saw that Elle was already at her desk for the day.
"You got company," Elle told Gabriel lazily, snapping her gum as she flipped through some of papers she had stacked in manila folders.
"It's the coffee and donuts crowd," Elle smirked. "Parkman and Hanson."
"Great," Gray said unenthusiastically. "Tell you what, you keep Suresh here company while I go in and see what they want, okay?"
"Sounds good," Elle smiled. "Come here, Doc, I saved a seat for you right here in my lap."
"I... uh... I'm fine just standing," Suresh replied, his nervousness showing again.
Gabriel paused, his hand on the door. "You know, Elle, there's a speed limit around here. Try to keep it to 25 miles an hour."
"Aw, how fast was I going?" Elle asked.
"About ninety." With that, Gabriel turned away and let himself into his office.
Detective Parkman, a large man, was looking through the things Gray had left on his desk. He looked up when he heard the door creak, no compunction in his face. He lifted a slip of paper and began reading it out loud. "Canned tomatoes, oregano, ricotta cheese - whatcha making, Gray, a lasagna? Didn't think to invite me over to dinner?"
"Didn't get the chance to go shopping yet," Gray replied. "You're in my seat."
"I know," Parkman said, without making a move to leave it.
Gray sighed and sat down on the edge of his desk. Parkman was one of the reasons he hated the force. He became wrapped up in his own limited authority and forgot how to be decent to people. But from his perch on his desk, Gray looked wearily around his office and caught a glimpse of business pumps in the corner. His eyes followed the line of her pantyhose seam up to the hem of her navy pencil skirt, around the silhouette of her buttocks.
Officer Audrey Hanson - she was a special kind of dynamite, wrapped neatly in nylon and gabardine. For a doll like that, Gabriel would risk not being powder-shy.
"Good morning, Gray," she said, catching his lingering eyes. "Heard there was some gunplay yesterday, wanted to make sure you'd won."
"I don't know what it is you're referring to," Gabriel replied coolly.
Hanson strolled over to the door, peering through the translucent glass that bore the words "Bennet and Gray - Private Investigators." She paused there for a second, as though trying to make out who was waiting outside. "So are you the brains of this outfit, or is he?" she asked, referring to Suresh.
"Doesn't look like a brains sort of operation to me," Parkman interjected. "Looks like someone's got a hot finger on a trigger, and we can't have that where good people could get hurt."
"If you're referring to the incident yesterday in Dr. Suresh's apartment building, I'd like to clarify and say that I was trying to prevent any bullets flying. I don't even carry a gun."
"You always have a smooth explanation," Parkman said, rolling his eyes.
"What do you want me to do, learn to stutter?"
"It's true, Parkman," Hanson told her partner. "He doesn't play with those kinds of toys too much."
"Just because he didn't when you dated him doesn't mean that he doesn't now."
"A man doesn't change that way, not that fast," Hanson said, walking back to Gray's desk and stopping just close enough so that her eyes met his for a second. "He pretends it's because he's better than any of those pocket-edition desperadoes out there, but really, he's not any different from them at all - just more foolish."
"How long have you been flying solo, Gray?" Parkman suddenly asked. "How long ago did Bennet disappear?"
Gray was seething underneath, but he knew Parkman was just trying to get a rise out of him, and he couldn't let him have the satisfaction. He folded his arms across his chest and ignored the pointed question.
But Parkman continued unabated. "See, Hanson, here's how it's supposed to be. When a man's partner goes missing, he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. And it so happens you're in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization goes missing, it's bad all around, bad for everyone everywhere. Bad business."
Gray was determined not to let Parkman get to him, so he turned his attention to the other officer. "So, Audrey, got anyone keeping you warm these days, or do you need one?"
"Are you volunteering again?" Hansons asked. "Because warmth has never been a particular quality of yours. I was attracted to... other things about you."
"Oh, really? Mind filling me in?"
"What I liked about you is that you're rock bottom," Hanson said, a sly smile on her face. "I wouldn't expect you to understand this, but it's a great comfort to a girl to know she couldn't possibly sink any lower." She turned to Parkman and beckoned him to follow her out. "Come on, Matt, we're not going to get anything more out of him."
"That was harsh," Gray replied, the corners of his mouth turned down in a mock-pout. "Come on, baby, I was good to you. I never asked you for anything - not a nickel, did I?"
"You wouldn't have gotten it," Hanson said, putting her hands on her hips. "You were never worth that much."
As much as Gabriel wanted her to stay, he loved watching her leave. But when the two officers of the law had departed, he went into the foyer and found Elle still trying to get a rise of a different kind of rise out of Mohinder.
"Come on, honey, I don't bite," she said to him, leering, as he uncomfortably lingered near the doorway. "Well, not unless you like that sort of thing."
"Down, girl," Gabriel said to her over his shoulder, taking Mohinder by the arm and leading him down the stairs.
"Where are we going?"
"We're going to find out who or what HRG is. We're going to the address on the paper."
"Well, what's the plan?" Suresh asked as they went out the door.
"Plan? There is no plan," Gray replied. "A plan is just a list of things that aren't going to happen." Mohinder's nervous energy must have rubbed off on him a little, because his hands were shaking as he reached for his pack of smokes. He didn't even think to offer one to Mohinder, taking just one for himself out of the pack.
But before the cigarette even touched his lip, it was blown out of his hand.
Gabriel turned. The blonde woman who'd shot at them last night was trying to escape by taking off down an alleyway across the street, but Gray boldly ran after her, dodging traffic in order to catch up. She was small and slender, and was no match for him when he grabbed her by the back of her neck and thrust her against a nearby dumpster. She dropped the gun as she hit the metal, but she made up for it by abusing him verbally as Mohinder more carefully crossed the street to catch up.
"That's her!" Mohinder exclaimed, suddenly recognizing the woman. "She's the one who stole the formula!"
"All right, babe, here's where you get in good with honesty. You work for HRG or the Petrellis?" Gabriel hissed.
She grunted as she kicked backwards, the heel of her shoe striking Gray in the calf. He faltered for a moment, and she wrested away from his grip, but Suresh took her by the arm and pushed her up against the dumpster again. "Nice try," he said, panting.
"Nice move there, Doc," Gabriel said, smiling cockily. "You're outnumbered here, doll. So who is it?"
"HRG," she muttered.
"Well, ain't that a coincidence, we were just on our way to say hi," Gabriel replied. "Why don't we all stop by together?"
"Go to hell!" she spat.
"Got a name, doll? I think we should get to know each other a little better before we get going."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "It's Daphne. Daphne Parkman. And my husband's a cop, so don't even think of trying anything funny, or he'll make you pay for it."
Gabriel had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing outright. So Parkman's dame was mixed up in this, too? It couldn't possibly get more complicated than this.
The three of them - the two men flanking Daphne to keep her from trying to escape - hopped into the nearest cab. Gray gave the driver the address and, when they arrived, he asked the cabbie to stick around.
"Whatever you say," the cabbie replied. "Just don't be in there too long."
It looked like nothing but a run-down warehouse from the outside, the cement-block facade crumbling and the coat of paint that covered it chipping away in places. The three of them entered, arm in arm, hesitant and jumpy at the same time. They followed a long, narrow hallway all the way to the end, where Gabriel Gray was surprised by who lay in wait for them.
"Gray, old pal," said a familiar voice. Gabriel dropped his arm from Daphne's, and Mohinder, confused, followed suit. Daphne stepped backward. This apparent reunion turned the tides on them, and she took them both roughly by the arm and escorted them in.
"Bennet?" he asked, as though he'd just seen a ghost. But Bennet looked good - healthy, vigorous, almost happy, better than he ever had when toiling away at the office. Maybe it was that he never had to keep early hours anymore, or maybe it was the large machine gun he held in his hands, but something about him was different, all right. "You're HRG?"
"It's for the horned-rim glasses, my friend. Wasn't all that hard to figure out," Bennet chided, "but then, you were never the most gifted dick."
Daphne forced them into a pair of folding chairs nearby, and, hurriedly, she tied their hands behind their backs. Still, even restrained, Gray wanted to get what he had come for. "The other half of the formula," he said simply. "You stole it. We want it back."
"If that's what you wanted, you aren't asking for it very politely," Bennet said, a warning in his voice. "You better watch how you talk to me, or you'll be picking lead out of your liver."
"Your wife thinks you're dead," Gabriel hissed back. "What kind of guy does that to his dame?"
"See, that's where you're confused. Sandra was just the woman I married; she was never really my dame," Bennet shot back. "Marrying her was a mistake. I needed a secretary, not a wife."
"She gave you two kids," Gabriel spat at him hatefully. "Do they know you're still alive? Do you know what they're up to now?"
"Don't you dare drag them into this," Bennet said threateningly. "You know, people lose teeth talking to me like that, so you better be polite."
Mohinder sneered at him with gumption that Gray didn't realize he had. "You're such a bitter old man."
"Let me tell you, Dr. Suresh, it's a bitter old world," Bennet explained. "I never disappeared - I left my wife for Angela Petrelli. Let me tell you, that bitch is not just rich but she's a killer in the sack. So we came up with a plan to kill her husband so she could be free, but even then she wouldn't leave the city behind. She's got too much power here, she said, even though it wasn't safe for us to be together. So yeah - I killed for money and I killed for a woman and I ended up with neither."
"I don't understand how that ties into the formula," Suresh asked, genuinely curious. As he talked, Gabriel struggled; with some nimble fingers, he loosened up the rope that bound his wrists together.
"Maybe it's revenge," Bennet replied. "Maybe it's ambition. Maybe it's gang warfare now. Does it really matter?"
"If it's all the same to you," Gray said, "if it really doesn't matter, how about letting us go? You know, for old times' sake?"
"Really, Gray, I never thought you were the kind of guy who bit off more than he could chew. Too bad the first time you do, you're really gonna choke."
Bennet held his gun steadily, aiming it at Gray's forehead. In a burst of energy, Gabriel stood up and reached for the barrel. Bennet recoiled in surprise, and Gabriel wrenched the weapon from his hand. He kicked Bennet to the ground, who groaned in pain when he hit the floor.
"What the hell is going on in here?" another familiar voice called out, and their heads all turned to the woman in the doorway.
Her father, still clutching his arm in pain, was the first to speak: "Claire, what are you doing here?"
"Don't get too excited, Daddy," Claire said sardonically. "I came here on behalf of Angela Petrelli. She wants her formula back, and she's willing to bargain for it."
"Oh, Claire," Bennet sighed. "Don't be like that, please don't be like that."
"Come on, Dad, I was playing for their team long before you decided to leave Mom like that," she hissed back at him. "It wasn't personal with Angela, and it's not personal with me. It's just business."
"It all gets too personal at some point," Gabriel observed, casting aside the gun with distaste. He reached over and untied Mohinder deftly, and the two of them began heading towards the door. Daphne, in her caution, decided to cast her lot their way and followed suit.
"You better pray that nothing happens to you, then, Claire," Bennet sighed, a note of true fatherly concern in his voice.
"I don't pray anymore," she replied. "Kneeling bags my nylons." She pulled a gun from the inside of her jacket, training it on the three people trying to make their exit before they made their way past her. "Where are you going in such a hurry? We're just negotiating." She turned her attention back to her father. "Angela Petrelli's willing to forgive you for taking half of the formula, provided you return it to me right now."
"No way in hell, Claire Bear," Bennet hissed back.
"I'm sorry, I didn't tell you the whole offer. You accept that, and you get your life spared for free."
"We really don't need to be here for this," Mohinder mumbled, trying to escape. "This is obviously a family issue that needs to be worked out."
"Don't. Go. Anywhere." Claire turned her gun on them one more time, growling. Seizing his chance, Bennet grabbed his machine gun back off the floor and fired a round aimlessly. There was a mad scramble for a frenzied minute as bullets clanged and ricocheted off the walls, the pillars, the few pieces of furniture in the room. Daphne cried out, covering her head with her hand and dropping to her knees. Gabriel grabbed Mohinder and tried to pull him to safety, while Claire aimed at her father and, without batting an eye, pumped him full of lead until he fell over, blood seeping from his wounds and pooling beneath him on the cold, hard floor.
"Come on, Doc, let's get out of here!" Gray declared; Daphne was well ahead of them, already out the door. But Mohinder only groaned in reply, grabbing his gut. A bullet had ripped into his side, and he staggered, he swayed, and collapsed on the floor, his arms curled around his torso, his face screwed up in pain. Gabriel rushed to him, cradling his head into his lap, smoothing down Mohinder's curls with a caress almost too intimate.
"Hang on there, partner," Gray said, his words pleading, but Mohinder could only stare back at him, the tears in his eyes reflecting first pain, then sadness, as he tried to blink them away, while Claire stood numbly over her father's body in a solemn show of respect. "You're going to be okay," Gray insisted, and the words reverberated in Mohinder's ears as he shut his eyes one last time.
Then everything faded to white.